Sunday, January 4, 2015

On the Evangelical-Catholic Ecclesiastical Polity

We are to honor the emperor; this is an Apostolic teaching. We are to honor our Lord and King, with our lips and with our heart-perfused human bodies.  Democracy is okay, temporally, although many a smart man has had his doubts about such ... including Plato, and surely Robespierre minutes before his head was lifted from his shoulders, by Dr. Guillotine's efficiency.   America's own evolving notions of equality, life and liberty have had their own acid-wearing effects on churchly behavior.   Many of us lack any respectable notions as to how to behave with fear and love, in the Presence of a saving King (eternity will correct this), or how to deal with the under-shepherd of the King's flock.  All too often, the bites of sheep hankering to be lions or bears come in the form of what is excused as "ballots."

In the Smalkald Articles (IV.7; 1537), Dr. Luther fantasizes on the possibility of the pope coming to his senses, and rejecting any notion of being the supreme head of the Church "by divine right; that is, by divine command."   Perhaps,  Luther granted, such a head could better pummel the inevitable  wacky sects and wolfish heretics;   but  such a head would first needs be "elected by the people, and it would remain incumbent upon their power and choice to change or depose this head (Kolb-Wengert translation, p. 308; Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2000)."  Have a massive, empowering Supreme Voters Assembly, a royal priesthood, a holy nation wildly beyond any previous Oecumenical Council's extent.

And here, then, is the sorry rub:  Yet "Christianity would not be helped in any way, and there would be even more sects than before, because they would not have to submit to such a head on the basis of God's command but rather as a matter of human good will."   But good will is in remarkably short supply, as short as peace treaties, on earth; Guillotine's ingenuity, unfortunately, is not.

The true Lutheran solution to this fleshly dilemma is this, from the Confessions themselves:  1) "the Church cannot be better ruled and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ (SA IV.9)" and  2)  "all the bishops -- equal according to the Office (although they may be unequal in their gifts) -- keep diligent together in unity of teaching, faith, sacraments, prayers, and works of love etc.." (SA IV.9; italic emphasis mine)

Dr. Luther goes on to quote St. Jerome, to effect that the priests at Alexandria "ruled the churches together in common, as the Apostles also did and afterwards all bishops throughout Christendom, until the pope elevated himself over them all."  There is no immediate mention, here, of the elevating Donation of Constantine being an out-right fraud, and most slanderously attached to a pious bishop of Rome whom all Evangelical-Catholics laudably commemorate on the Sixth Day of the Christmastide.  But then, we all know this from Sunday School.  Or at least, from Melanchthon's Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (and footnote 32 of the same, penned by Kolb and Wengert, pp. 335-6).

The point is, in my opinion, that one should not place undue confidence in periodic Lutheran elections, or the products of such, since few angels of good will are punching the tabulating electronic buttons; that humble country parsons are quite the equals of district presidents, in Office and in divine rank (although perhaps unequal in personal gifts, and certainly of perks); and that we of the Church of Augustana ought to be on the same page when it comes to such things as "teaching, faith, sacraments, prayers, and works of love etc.." 

What we teach and how we worship mattered to Dr.  Luther.  It matters to the Confessions, to which our preachers and celebrants have individually pledged their allegiances, in a vow to God.   Evidently, the simple priests/pastors of Alexandria long ago,  ruled in common; and it seems reasonable that they shepherded also in a common way.  How they "sacramented," and how they prayed, etc., etc., surely reflected the very Presence of the Lord among a gathered two or three or more, and not a Calvinistic concept of Christ "out there."  I think there is a need to parley among the priests and bishops, openly and honestly, and decide if we can live up to the name Lutheran in faith, polity, practice, and ceremonies.  I think the SA's own "etc.," above, covers those things quite nicely and very comprehensively.    Anything less, when it comes to our behavior, is dancing a tango delusionally and living a lie. 


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